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Mrs. Petraeus
Mom with a View

Mrs. Petraeus

What has happened to the power of sisterhood?


When I went to college, it was the era of feminism (which arrived in Canada about 10 later than it did in the US). Women without men were like fish without bicycles. Sisterhood was powerful and if women ruled the world, it would be a kinder, gentler place.

Although I got swept up in some of the feminist ideas (concerns about using women to advertise cars and beer for example, a battle that seems to have been lost and only gotten worse), I never believed that women were superior, nicer or would do a better job of running things. I didn’t buy into the kinder, gentler notion.

Just ask the victims of school bullying by the “Queen Bees and Wannabees.” Just view the victims of Winnie Mandela’s burning tire “necklaces.”

But we need not turn to such egregious examples. We just need to listen to the conversations among women (and girls) of all ages – the cattiness, the backstabbing, the betrayals. We just need to hear of the story upon story of relationships and marriages gone awry when her “best friend” entered the picture. We’re always shocked anew but it’s actually become a familiar story.

As much as I recognize this phenomenon, as much as I see the fallacy in the original feminist vision, I was still surprised by the reaction of some of my female friends to the Petraeus scandal. (Not that story again; isn’t it old news?!) For all the newspaper and media coverage, I think this aspect was never touched upon.

“Did you see the pictures of Mrs. Petraeus?” asked one acquaintance. “She looks so old and dowdy.” “Compare her to Paula Broadwell,” chimed in another. “Who can blame him?” piped up a third.

Well, besides provoking reflection about the company I keep (!), this conversation gave me pause. Where was the loyalty, the identification, the banding together on behalf of a woman wronged?

And, of course, it goes way beyond feminism and sisterhood and catchy slogans. Where was their moral compass? Is it okay to cheat on your wife if she looks a little careworn? (I would think that marriage to a career military person would be particularly stressful with the long absences, the constant danger and the single parenting – I get tired just thinking of it!) Is there no longer an expectation of commitment? Of integrity? Of loyalty and trustworthiness?

What did it say about these women’s own expectations? Would they, too, betray their spouses should a successful four-star general come their way? Were they so sure they were the Paula Broadwell figure (what about her husband?) and not the Holly Petraeus one? Have they no empathy for how she must feel?

It scared me; how quick we are to throw a “sister” under the bridge, how fragile our moral moorings.

I think sisterhood could be powerful. I think women could reclaim the moral high ground. If certain women refused to be mistresses and others refused to countenance it, the problem would disappear.

We have been taught that it was the faith and actions of the righteous women that led to the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt. Women can make all the difference. We can deem certain behaviors intolerable – and match our actions to our words. We can admonish our friends who are having affairs instead of sympathizing with their plight. We can stand for solid values and not sway with the times – and the newspaper photos!

Our female ancestors showed us we have the potential to unite and lift the world. We have the potential but it remains untapped. We need to elevate ourselves and those around us. It’s not too late. We can turn the tides. We can change our attitudes. We can adjust our expectations. And we can start having totally different conversations.

December 1, 2012

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 24

(19) Michael W, April 8, 2013 6:13 AM

You are one of the most perceptive, insightful and inspiring writers (& spouse & parent & in-law) I think I've read in a long, long time.

(18) Betty, December 12, 2012 5:23 PM

easy to judge Mrs. P

The general played while Mrs. P stayed home and prayed...She is the same woman who loved him in their youth...She is not glamerous and either is he. The only difference is he is an old fool and she is not......This story is older than time. What would have been the appeal of the general if he were not a general. He has not only betrayed himself but his children - if any - as well. I defended him years ago when others were calling him Gen. Betrayus...I have lost all respect for him as a good human being as he has betrayed the one person who would always stand by him.

(17) Anonymous, December 8, 2012 10:53 PM

Emuna has it right.

Sisterhood is more than a party or a luncheon. Supporting each other and calling out the wrongs when we see it. Now that's Sisterhood.

Esther, December 11, 2012 5:28 PM

sounds very american

I must say this sisterhood concept is something very strange to me - sound like feminism. And excuse me for saying so, but I did not get a feeling that women ever sticked together. Not now, not 100 years ago ...

(16) Ruthiel, December 7, 2012 1:18 PM

I agree but its important

Dear Emunah, I agree with all your observations, but you should perhaps also mention its not okay for women to abandon themselves. Its one of the basic marriage principles in Judaism that a wife shoudl beautify herself for her husband. Jewish women in egypt knew this well and even after a terrible day at work they did they best to entice their men to desire them. Of course, men were tired after their slave work, but perhaps our modern men are comparably tired as people get weaker and handle less than our ancestors could have done. This classic Midrash story tell us that you can not expect your husband to have a burning desire to be with your intimately if you dont try to be presentable. I am not excusing Mr P. I am just saying taht each married (and also not married woman) should try to smell nice, wear neat clothes (no brands needed) and perhaps here and there apply a little bit of make up. I am not saying we should look like Gisele Bunchen and spend hours fussing about our bodies, clothes and general looks,. I have similar expectation on my husband. I expect he will shower reguralry and apply deodorant and wear presentable clother when we go out and I strive to do the same. I try to snatch 5-10 mins before we meet in the evening to apply to check my face and clothes. There is no excuse to look abandon yourself just because you are busy with household and kids. Me and many of many friends work, have children, run homes and try to look pretty for husbands. You dont have to be rich to look nice

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